Making time to write

There has been a lot of change in my little world recently and I’ve had to pull back from a few commitments to adjust to my new routine.

Last month I changed jobs, saying farewell to part-time hours and moving back to full-time work. It felt like the right time to return to the Monday to Friday routine and I have a few goals that require better finances to turn them into a reality. My new job is a great opportunity where I get to interact with creative and passionate people and develop my writing skills. I draft newsletters and update web content for various clients, proofread marketing materials and write communications plans for using social media.

Of course, all this change has also meant an overhaul in my writing habits and routine. Even after a month, I’m still learning how to kick-start my brain after doing my corporate writing all day and some nights I struggle to ‘switch off’ so that I can sleep and recharge. I’m learning though and I’m starting to gain momentum again.

If anyone else is in a similar situation, these are a few ideas to re-create your writing routine:

1. Submit your writing (but only if you have something ready). Sometimes just dropping your manuscript in the post will give you the momentum to get back to a daily routine. It’s a really positive action and a good reminder that you’ve written a short story or manuscript before and you can do it again.

2. Set a timeframe (even if it doesn’t feel right at first). Over the last few weeks, I’ve made 8.30 – 10.30pm my writing time. It’s not my most productive time to write and I might eventually try writing in the early mornings (Ugh. Early mornings.) but it’s helping me make writing a daily activity again and keeps my projects fresh in my mind.

3. Have a plan B in case your brain cells won’t kick in. I have two projects on-the-go at the moment. One is in the editing stages and the other is in the early research and planning stages. Some nights I’ve wanted to edit but my brain can’t handle more than googling interesting and gruesome facts about Ancient Egypt and Rome. It’s my plan B. While I’m adjusting to my new routine, I’m trying to be flexible with my writing goals and be willing to make progress any way I can.

4. Exercise. I haven’t been exercising lately and I’m regretting it now.  Regular exercise will keep your ‘computer posture’ in check and is the best stress relief while you’re adjusting to your busier life.

So to all my poor friends that I’ve been neglecting lately, I’ve almost got my routine sorted out and I hope to be catching-up with you soon. To those writers who are re-assessing their writing habits, I wish you the best of luck with your new routine.

Secret project pictures

Well, I’m almost half way through my first draft and everything seems to be going as usual. Which is to say that I haven’t slept well in three weeks and I hardly ever make sense.

Since my brain is broken, I thought I could share some pictures with you. I am being quite secretive with this project while it’s in the early stages, so this might be all you know about it for a few months yet.

(Please know that none of these pictures are mine. The second and third pictures I found on t-shirt sites, which was odd. I’m unsure where the first picture comes from, but it reflects the mood of my project so beautifully that I had to include it.)

First draft jitters

This month I’m settling in to a new work-in-progress. The concept, storyline and early research for this W-I-P came together so quickly that I’ve become crazy-excited about this project. I love all my stories, (why else would I bother?) but this one came together so easily, that I knew it was special.

So with the background work done, plot line sorted, character profiles and the constant dreams/nightmares about different scenes in the book I finally knew it was time to sit down and write the first chapter.

Then I made coffee. Then I googled. Then I made another coffee.

You get the idea.

I get nervous before every first draft I write and it doesn’t feel like something I’ll grow out of. The story and the characters are so real and perfect in my mind and I can clearly see how they react in different situations. Before I start writing, it’s as though I’m watching this film that has never been made and I’m connecting to the scenes – being afraid or heart broken or blissfully happy.

But as soon as I begin writing, all of the detail and emotion seems to vanish. I could write copious notes and it still wouldn’t come out as thrilling as it seemed in my mind. That’s what gives me the jitters. I know that as soon as I start the hard work my story won’t be perfect anymore. Sure, it will have glimmers here and there, but it will also be ridden with plot holes and awkward prose and even some surprisingly dull moments.

I know it just won’t be the same, but that’s the challenge of writing a novel. I’m sure a lot of people can think of an idea for a story, but getting it down and re-drafting until it resembles that very first time it played through your mind is hard work.

It’s hard work that I should be returning to right now, actually…

PLOTTING WITH POST-ITS

I love plotting out a manuscript before I write the first draft. It gives me a direction to head towards, especially on the days when my brain is completely scattered and I’m running low on spare time. Sometimes when I’m working out a storyline, I’ll use post-it notes to get my scenes together. Each little post-it has a scene or a bundle of scenes to make full chapter  that I’ll line up in what I believe is the right order.


Throughout this process, I discover when an event has happened too quickly (like two characters falling in and out of love within three chapters) or which areas of my story are still unknown to me (which is pretty obvious with a short row of blank post-its). I swap scenes around, find double-ups and I throw out ideas that still might find a way of sneaking into my story.

Once I’ve got most of the plot worked out, I’ll transfer the scenes from my post-its onto a spreadsheet and begin writing. I rarely have the whole storyline planned before I write because every story has a strange way of evolving with new ideas and twists I couldn’t have imagined before I started. To borrow a quote from Pirates of the Carribean, “They’re more like guidelines anyway”.

(Note: This is not my house, so don’t get any crazy ideas that I work in front of a fireplace everyday.)

MERMAIDS, MONSTERS AND MAGIC

When I’m in the early stages of writing a new story, I like to collect little things that create the mood for my project. I’ve listened to many writers who have collected notes, sketches and research in a story journal and I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to look through some. (Many thanks to Kim Wilkins and Anthony Eaton for being so generous.)

I love the idea of creating a journal for each novel I write but I have to confess that I’m a little bit hopeless at it. I’m not quite myself if I’m not using five notebooks at the same time. Instead, I search for pictures, music and little odds and ends that I feel reflects the atmosphere of my story and I keep it close.

I have a ritual where I change my desktop picture to reflect what I’m writing and I put up pictures where I can to keep just a little piece of me connected with my story world. Right now, I’m back at work on my YA mermaid book, so I’m surrounded by pictures of the ocean, seascapes and (obviously) mermaids. An artist that I’ve especially fallen in love with for this story is Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, particularly the mermaids in her Dreamscapes book.

I also love creating new playlists for my projects and my current WIP playlist came together so effortlessly. I want this book to be very sexy and dangerous and full of desire and heartbreak. My playlist is mostly made of songs by Moloko and Portishead and there are certain tracks that are even growing into character theme songs.

Like my last novel, I’ll keep my collection growing until I’ve finished the final line edit but for the moment, I might share a few pictures I’ve found with you.

I can’t remember where I found this one, but it amuses me that the mermaid is in a glass tank.

I love this outfit from Liana’s Paper Doll Blog. Anyone who ever dressed up paper dolls should check out the site.

This was the first picture that I really loved when I had the idea to write a mermaid book. The artwork is by Jill Johansen which I found on the Elfwood website.

WRITING ROUTINES FOR FULL-TIME SUCKERS

A little while ago someone found my blog by trying to look for writing routines for full-time workers. I’m going to assume they were bummed out by my post on day jobs and how a full time one isn’t such a great idea.

I still have the same opinion about writers and day jobs, however, I’ve had to return to the dreaded day job for a little while (oh, the thrill of temping!) and I’m feeling your pain. I thought I could share a few little tricks that I’m trying during my current contract that might help others that work full-time and write on the side.

1. Set up a routine and guard it with your life

I loathe early mornings. So when I’m working, I write in my lunch break or after work. My current contract is insanely busy and exhausting, so I have to write after work. I’ve set up a little routine for myself. I do some exercise, have a hot shower, drink two coffees, eat dinner and write until my eyes feel like they’re falling out of their sockets (which is about one to two hours).

So, when can you block out half an hour or more? Can you handwrite at a coffee shop in your lunch break? Or could you stay back at work and write for an hour before you leave the office? Or are you one of these disturbingly-happy morning people than can get up at five in the morning to write before work?

Figure out when and where you are going to write and stick to it. If you let people disrupt that small window of writing time there better be a good reason, like the sky falling or circus lions have entered the building and are mauling your work mates. I know you can’t totally ignore people and you shouldn’t, but surely you can afford at least twenty minutes a day to work on your novel?

2. Do something everyday

I feel more myself when I can write for a few hours a day but when I’m working, this just doesn’t happen. My brain is crammed with work politics and to-do lists that I don’t even care about and I’m exhausted from sitting at a computer all day. I’d love to write two-thousand words or so a night but it’s a tough ask.

I have to do something though, no matter how small so I’m making progress everyday. If you’re working full-time, there is only one way to keep your story fresh in your mind and that’s to work on it everyday. Even if you only re-read a chapter that you wanted to edit and make notes, or write four hundred words, or dot point what happens in the next chapter, you are still working on your story. You’re still making progress.

3. Have a goal to work towards

When I take on a contract, I set out a writing goal according to how long I am working for. I’ve already talked about how ambitious (and perhaps, stupid) my goals are but at least I know where I’m going. My current contract is long enough that I’ve planned to finish a spew-draft of my sequel to Blood Sun. I wouldn’t be able to edit while working in this position, but I believe I can churn out a disfigured and holey first draft to work from later in the year.

Failing all of this, you might want to read Margo Lanagan’s post over on Justine Larbalestier’s blog about time off from writing and day jobs. It made me feel so much better. If anyone has a tip they could add, please leave a comment and help the poor, time-starved writers.

I’M GOING OUT OF MY MIND

Writing is a very internal activity. You might have heard people saying they need to ‘get into the right headspace’ for their project or they need to ‘go on retreat’ to get the story right.

Sometimes when I’m writing, I get into this ‘headspace’ and I get stuck there. It seems like it should be a good thing – to get stuck in your own creative world – but it always has the opposite effect on me. The other parts of my life seem to tumble down around me until I’m exhausted, stressed and frustrated while my writing dies a slow and horrible death before my eyes.

Unfortunately, this is where I’ve been the last week and a half; wondering what happened in the first place and knowing that somehow, I was the cause. It was only this morning that I finally realised what was wrong. I haven’t been exercising.

Writing and exercising are not activities that you would usually put together but if I don’t do both everyday, I become unhinged. If I’ve been glued to my computer screen for a whole day, it means I’ve been stuck in my ‘headspace’ for a whole day and it’s a really difficult place to escape.

My mind is where I create new worlds and characters but it’s also where I overthink, criticise and second guess everything that I do. It’s as though the rest of my body doesn’t exist and I’m lost to the thoughts in my head regardless if they’re creative or destructive.

If I exercise everyday, then my mind and body are on the same team. I feel more awake, more creative and much more confident. Plot problems sort themselves out while I’m not desperately labouring over them and I stop listening to the nasty, inner-critic lurking in the back of my mind.

So if your writing has taken a swan dive, then get off the computer and do something active. It doesn’t need to be a 10km jog. You could play hide and seek with your kids, go for a lazy stroll along the waterfront or play tennis on the wii. Get active and get out of your head before you drive yourself completely crazy.